Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Paralytic and Four Friends: Revisited

I have been thinking a bit more on the subject of becoming saved as a result of another's faith.  (See my previous post here.)  That led me to do some searching in the Church Fathers concerning the account of the men letting down the paralytic through the roof in Capernaum (Matt 9:2-8; Mark 2:3-12; Luke 5:18-26).  There were several references to Jesus' proclamation that the man's sins were forgiven—generally given in the context of his willingness and authority to forgive.  Two authors had a more complete exposition.

John Chrysostom in Homilies on St. Matthew took the position that all five men had some measure of faith.
Now Matthew indeed says, that “they brought him,” but the others, that they also broke up the roof, and let him down.  And they put the sick man before Christ, saying nothing, but committing the whole to Him.  For though in the beginning He Himself went about, and did not require so much faith of them that came unto Him; yet in this case they both approached Him, and had faith required on their part.  For, “Seeing,” it is said, “their faith;” that is, the faith of them that had let the man down.  For He does not on all occasions require faith on the part of the sick only: as for instance, when they are insane, or in any other way, through their disease, are out of their own control.  Or rather, in this case the sick man too had part in the faith; for he would not have allowed himself to be let down, unless he had believed.
That is certainly possible.  Preachers have stated the same in the centuries following.  We have no way of knowing whether or not the invalid man had any faith in Jesus before arriving, however reasonable that conclusion might be.

Cyril of Jerusalem had a somewhat different understanding.  In a treatise on faith, exegeting Hebrews 11:1-2, he states:
Indeed, so much power has faith, that not the believer only is saved, but some have been saved by others believing.  The paralytic in Capernaum was not a believer, but they believed who brought him, and let him down through the tiles: for the sick man’s soul shared the sickness of his body.  And think not that I accuse him without cause: the Gospel itself says, when Jesus saw, not his faith, but their faith, He said to the sick of the palsy, "Arise!"  The bearers believed, and the sick of the palsy enjoyed the blessing of the cure.
Cyril attempts to bolster his argument with Jesus' statement to Mary, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" (John 11:40) as the example of supplying faith which saved Lazarus from the grave.  That seems to be outside the bounds of his argument.  Though the parallel of death between the physical and spiritual are certainly present, the former is temporary and the latter eternal.  Cyril was better served to let his point stand on its own merit.

For now, I will stay with the plain meaning of the text: the Lord saw the faith of the friends and healed the paralytic both spiritually and physically.  The man responded in faith by rising and going home.

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